Posted on Tue, Apr. 01, 2003

Assembly passes bill to extend abuse evidence period
Associated Press

SACRAMENTO - The State Assembly passed a bill Tuesday to give victims of alleged Los Angeles priest abuse more time to make their cases and make it harder for defendants to run out the clock with legal maneuvers.

The bill hurriedly passed the Assembly Public Safety Committee 4-0, then the full Assembly with a 76-0 vote. The Senate, also aiming for quick action, scheduled a hearing Thursday in its Public Safety Committee, and possibly a full Senate vote.

It would then go to Gov. Gray Davis, who released a statement Tuesday that said his top priority was "protecting our children. ... When a person abuses a child, that child deserves to have the justice system work for them. We should do all we can to prevent child abusers from getting off on a technicality."

Backers said they had to act quickly to prevent the Los Angeles County district attorney's office from missing several pending deadlines to press charges of child sexual abuse against priests and other employees in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

"We need that bill in order to save some of our cases," Deputy District Attorney William Hodgman said Tuesday after attending a court hearing to compel the nation's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese to turn over confidential records.

At issue during the hearing before a retired Los Angeles Superior Court judge were three kinds of records - reports by people claiming abuse by priests, intervention interviews of priests by upper-level clergy, and psychological evaluations.

The bill, prodded by the Los Angeles district attorney and carried by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, aims to extend time to gather those documents and other evidence.

Los Angeles County prosecutors say in most previous instances they have been unable to prosecute allegations of sexual abuse because they can't gather evidence in time.

Under current state law, when a victim of child sexual abuse reports an allegation, authorities have one year to gather evidence to make a case and press charges. But prosecutors maintain that defendants' attorneys can easily delay and run out the clock by mounting legal challenges against grand jury subpoenas for evidence.

The new bill would freeze the clock while judges consider those challenges.

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On the Net: Read the bill AB949 at http:www.assembly.ca.gov.

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